1.02.00 - Tropical and subtropical silviculture



Hot off the Press: Article in The Conversation by Plinio Sist

Couper moins et laisser reposer: une nouvelle gestion des forêts tropicales s’impose. Article by Plinio Sist in The Conversation, Thursday, 2 September 2021. online link

English version: Cut less, leave longer: decades of data show we are over-exploiting tropical rainforests; The Conversation, Wednesday, 8 September 2021. online link   

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Marie Ange Ngo Bieng, Costa Rica

State of Knowledge

Concern for the sustainable management of tropical forests has never been greater. Silviculture, dealing with the establishment, care, reproduction and harvesting, aims at providing the biological and technical guidelines or options to achieve management objectives. Appropriate silviculture is therefore not synonymous to sustainable management but without sound silvicultural systems, sustainable forest management is impossible.

In a review of silviculture for sustainable management of tropical moist forest, Bertault et al. (1995) concluded that technical capacities were sufficient to support large-scale plantations but that the level of knowledge on the silvics of natural forests was still modest though some effective tools were available. This conclusion was in fact similarly valid for tropical dry and subtropical forests. In 2006, the situation seems more or less the same and though new techniques have been developed or promoted (e.g. Reduced Impact Logging or RIL) or old ones rediscovered (again, a great part of RIL guidelines were not genuinely new…), silviculture for tropical forests is still in infancy and in dire need of research both fundamental and applied.

Some actors (e.g. Walters et al. 2005) consider that technical solutions exist already and that this is just a matter of applying them; others (e.g. Bawa and Seidler 1998) accuse silviculturists of not have the real knowledge to satisfy the multiple and sometime new societal demands (e.g. sustainable production of non timber forest products or environmental services) being made on tropical forests and suggest protection instead of rational exploitation; still others (e.g. Fredericksen and Putz 2003) propose a silvicultural intensification for tropical forest conservation. The debate is still open and "hot".

Another sensitive silvicultural issue revolves around tropical plantations. Development of planted forests in tropical and subtropical countries is accelerating to satisfy the ever-growing global demand for wood products. It is expected that within 20 years half of all wood fibre in the world will be sourced from plantations, of which more than half are in the tropics and subtropics. At Bertault’s et al. (1995) time, tropical timber plantations were mainly in intensively managed industrial wood plantations and existing silvicultural techniques were deemed appropriate. Nowadays they are increasingly developed as part of farming systems, to control erosion or to rehabilitate degraded lands and forests with active community involvement. This new trend requires new silvicutural research.

These are the challenges ahead of our IUFRO Research Group 1.02.00.

Selected useful references

  • Bawa, K. & R. Seidler - 1998. Natural forest management and conservation of biodiversity in torpical forests. Conservation Biology 12:46-55
  • Bellefontaine, R., A. Gaston & Y. Petrucci. Aménagement des forêts naturelles des zones tropicales sèches. Cahier de la conservation no 32, FAO, Rome.
  • Bertault, J.G., B. Dupuy & H.F. Maitre -1995. Silviculture for sustainable forest management of tropical moist forest. Unasylva 181,
  • Dawkins, H C, M.S. Philip -1998. Tropical moist forest silviculture and management: a history of success and failure. CAB International, Wallingford.
  • Dykstra, D.P. & R. Heinrich -1996. FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
  • Evans, J. & J. Turnbull -2004. Plantation forestry in the tropics - the role, silviculture, and use of planted forests for industrial, social, environmental, and agroforestry purposes. New York, NY, USA, Oxford University Press.
  • Fredericksen, T.D. & F.E. Putz - 2003. Silvicultural intensification for tropical forest conservation. Biodiversity and Conservation 12:1445-1453.
  • Poore, D., P. Burgess, J. Palmer, S. Rietbergen & T. Synnott - 1989. No Timber without Trees: Sustainability in the Tropical Forest. Earthscan, London.
  • Putz, F.E., D. Dykstra & H. Heinrich - 2000. Why poor logging practices persist in the tropics. Conservation Biology 14:951-956
  • Smith D.M.m B. Larson, C. Ketty & P.M.S. Ashton - 1997. The Practice of Silviculture: Applied Forest Ecology. John Wiley & Sons, New York
  • Walters, B.B., C. Sabogal, L.K. Snook & E. de Almeida -2005. Constraints and opportunities for better silvicultural practice in tropical forestry: an interdisciplinary approach. Forest Ecology and Management 209:3-18.